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RCASA Friday Facts: Stalking

In Friday Facts, Sexual Assault Awareness on November 19, 2010 at 8:00 am

What is stalking?

Behavior wherein an individual willfully and repeatedly engages in a knowing course of harassing conduct directed at another person which reasonably and seriously alarms, torments, or terrorizes that person.

Stalking involves one person’s obsessive behavior toward another person. Initially, stalking will usually take the form of annoying, threatening, or obscene telephone calls, emails or letters. The calls may start with one or two a day but can quickly increase in frequency. Stalkers may conduct covert surveillance of the victim, following every move his target makes. Even the victim’s home may be staked out.

Virginia’s anti-stalking laws may prevent some people from stalking, but this has not yet been proven. Many will stop after they have been arrested, prosecuted, and/or convicted. Unfortunately, most stalkers are not stopped by laws. Studies of stalkers indicate that they stop when their target is no longer available to them, or they find someone else to harass.

What can be done about it?

Stalking makes a victim doubt reality and wonder if there is anything that can really be done to stop the stalker. Yet there are practical steps that a person being stalked can take. These steps, in concert with efforts by law enforcement, University administrators, and allies, can help her or him begin to regain some control over her/his life.

A stalker tracking form can help you record stalking incidents – use it as a model to create your own form, or write on it directly. Go to the following link to download a stalker tracking form:

http://womenscenter.virginia.edu/sdvs/stalking/stalker_tracking_form.pdf

Who Can be Stalked?

Stalking can happen to anyone, male or female, and may involve family members, friends, or co-workers. Stalkers may target casual acquaintances or random victims, and can stalk their victims for days, weeks, or even years. The target can become a prisoner in her or his own home.

Most stalking takes place between people who have known each other intimately. Domestic violence stalkers, as a category, constitute the most dangerous and potentially lethal group of stalkers. Abusers often feel that their victims belong to them, are theirs to control or to punish for trying to leave, and rationalize their inappropriate behavior by blaming the victim of their obsession. Leaving and abusive relationship takes careful planning and implementation. A local domestic violence shelter can assist in developing a safety plan.

Stalking is an insidious crime because it can make a victim feel completely “crazy”. A stalker’s goal is to twist her/his sense of reality with complete stealth. You can begin to help yourself by filling out the tracking form – it serves as a good reality check, and makes the people who work, study, and live with you aware as well. There are also people and agencies in the area with a great deal of knowledge and understanding of stalking behavior and its impact on victims. Taking Care of Yourself

Develop a support system through friends, family, and colleagues, and/or join a support group. Emotional support is critical during this time and afterward, because you may experience a variety of symptoms of extreme stress, including rage, terror, suspicion, an inability to trust anyone, depression, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, exhaustion, and/or frequent crying spells. This is a result of the tension caused by relentless victimization. Talking to someone other than a friend or family member (who may want to help but can also get burned out) who is trained to work with victims/survivors may help alleviate the impact of this trauma on your life.

  • Notify the stalker to stop: Your attorney or you can send a registered letter to the stalker stating that he/she must stop the behavior immediately.
  • Notify law enforcement and the Commonwealth’s Attorney: Request that law enforcement agencies log your complaint each time you call whether they respond or not. Request a copy of the report.
  • Obtain a Protective Order: You will need to go to the magistrate to get a criminal warrant and then file for a protective order. While the stalker may not respect the order, the police are required to make an arrest if the order is violated.
  • Document everything: Record any information that you or any witnesses can provide. Use the Tracking Form to record any or all details.
  • Tell everyone: Give friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members a description of the stalker. Ask them to watch for him/her, document everything listed above and give you a written account for your records.
  • Take pictures: When you see the stalker try to take a photo or videotape it it’s safe to do so.
  • Press charges: Call police or go to the magistrate immediately and request warrants each time the stalker breaks a law. The stalker should be arrested, bonded, and then released. Request that one of the terms of the bond be that the stalker may not have any contact with you at all. Obtain copies of all documents and the name of the magistrate, as well as arresting officer.
  • Save all communications: Save and date all cards, letters, notes, envelopes, e-mails, and taped messages on your telephone answering machine that are from the stalker.
  • Keep all legal documents: Obtain copies of warrants, protective orders, court orders, etc.
  • Make it hard to track you down:
    • Obtain a post office box.
    • Give your address and phone number to as few people as possible.
    • Inform professional organizations that they are to provide no one with information about you.
    • Call the Social Security Office and request that Social Security numbers be changed if you can prove that the stalker is using them to find you.
    • Post a No Trespassing sign on the edge of your property where it is clearly visible.
    • Report threatening calls to the telephone company.
    • Use *57, Call Trace, if available.
    • Report to the FBI all threats sent by mail.
    • If you move:
    • Don’t ask the post office to forward your mail. Have them hold it for you
    • Take all important records with you: your (and your children’s) medical, financial, academic records, Social Security cards, green cards, passports, driver’s licenses, etc.
    • Pick up or forfeit deposit money on apartments
  • Take a self-defense class: You may find that you feel more empowered and self-sufficient, even if you never employ the techniques that you learn in your class.

If you are being stalked…

Keep a record of every incident – major or minor – because this supports your story. Record-keeping will also help you understand these patterns, particularly related to small, seemingly innocuous events, such as knocked-over trashcans, or objects being moved in subtle ways that set off your internal alarms. You have the right to report each incident to the police, even if no crime was committed. If the police tend to dismiss minor events as non-events, your record will be important in showing the stalker’s pattern of behavior. Police incident reports are an official record of behavior for stalking charges.

You have the right to obtain a protective order.
However, it is important to keep in mind that a protective order – whether a no-trespass order, a stalking protective order or domestic violence protective order – is only a piece of paper, and a tool for the criminal justice system. It does not protect you from harm. In some cases, it has increased the stalker’s violence. On the other hand, protective orders mandate arrests and may help prosecute and incarcerate the stalker. You must assess your personal situation and decide what is best for you.

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